“Up on melancholy hill/There’s a plastic tree” are the first lyrics of “On Melancholy Hill.” Damon Albarn — the mastermind behind the animated band Gorillaz — doesn’t sing them as much as he does croon them. It’s soft, low, and intimate; at once both broad and personal, like melody of snowflakes tumbling from the sky for everyone to see but landing only on you. “Are you here with me,” continues Albarn, “Just looking out on the day/Of another dream”.
The plastic tree in question is a metaphor (because of course it is). Albarn is quick to inform us that we can’t get what we want, but we can have him. Our dreams, as lush as they may be, will always be out of reach. Instead, we must settle for what we can make. The tree stands alone on melancholy hill, made of plastic yes, but still real. Plastic is unnatural but not unreal.
We can make our own dreams. Manatees swim alongside submarines, objects both natural and fabricated diffusing through the water until they’re indistinguishable. If you look closely, you’ll spot the difference. Don’t look, says Albarn. Maybe your dream doesn’t look the way you thought it would, but does it matter how it looks when it’s real?
That’s the melancholy of “On Melancholy Hill.” An imperfect dream that’s real is better than a perfect one that we can never reach. Soft synths carry us through the song. Finding the dream is little more than “Just looking out at the day”. But that’s enough claims Albarn, it’s enough “When you’re close to me.” Finding the plastic tree, a small sliver of fabricated happiness, and having someone to share it with is as real as a dream can be.
That the tree is plastic doesn’t matter really. The presence is better than the absence.
(Song recommendation by Josh Sorensen)